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Adventures of Superman #623
posted December 31, 2004
The Adventures of Superman #623
Joe Casey and Derek Aucoin
DC Comics, $2.25
If you find yourself out of step from the mainstream comics companies for a year or thirty, the furious rate through which they re-establish or re-launch their major properties seems vaguely weird and halfway desperate. Joe Casey was one of four quality, well-regarded superhero writers capable of doing left of center work brought on board a few years back to steward DC's flagship character through his various titles. Each writer had their fans and their detractors, their well-received storylines and their stamped-foot protest plot moments, and now their once publicity-hailed reinvigoration of the line will fade away into dim memory as the emphasis will be on splashier big-star runs of the kind that fueled DC's recent success with Batman. The last reinventions of mainstream superhero characters that really took hold were in the late 1970s and 1980s, when comics still sold by attrition to the point toying with traditional formulas seemed worth pursuing, and characters could be left in the hands of young punks with something to prove without the risk of plummeting below 15,000 copies a month sold. Now the hooks are so into certain characters as potential movie licenses or custodianship test cases for career advancement, and with such a small margin of error in the direct market, that one has to wonder why anyone bothers.
Adventures of Superman #623 is a perfect example of that doomed struggle between editorial control and desperately attempting to breathe new life in tired concepts. As they flit around the world, Superman tells Lois Lane anecdotes about various adventures that pay homage to Silver Age goofiness in a manner that's sweetly nostalgic but also, one imagines, pretty slow going for anyone young or new to comics. I suppose the reader is supposed to come out of the story feeling for Superman's struggle to balance his role as superguy-protector of the world with his recent-decades, television-drama style, advanced emotional attachment to Lois Lane. But by portraying the world that Lois does not fully understand in terms of older, fanciful stories, what comes out of it is, "My comics were a lot more fun 40 and 50 years ago when I didn't have all this talking-head marriage shit to deal with." Even taken straight, Joe Casey's Superman seems to be dumping Lois Lane, as if the next words out of his mouth are going to be "You can come by the Fortress of Solitude on Tuesday to pick up your stuff." Instead, the story ends on a neutral point so that, one imagines, any future changes in a core element of the title can be processed through editorial. It feels like a couple that stays together until they can have a proper fight, which is testament to Casey's ability to keep a story like this one from rattling apart. None of this makes something like Adventures #623 work as art in the traditional way that art inspires, enlightens or even entertains, but sorting through the nuances of the various frictions brought to bear on modern mainstream comics is a pretty fascinating kind of art in itself.